Sitting down for a tarot reading across from Shaun Laveau, the 21-year-old spiritual worker conveys the presence of someone more ancient.
A conversation begins with cards sliding out of his favorite deck. Once he begins to read, it is clear that Laveau has more than a gift for empathy and intuition.
“I’m true to this, I’m not new to this,” he says, claiming lineage descent from a line of Christian prophets.
Although raised Christian, Laveau says that African traditional spiritual systems have always been an important part of his daily life. Many of these practices took the form of strict family superstitions: “You know, we don’t split poles when we go to the grocery store. We don’t sweep over each other’s feet. We won’t eat peanuts inside of the house. Every New Year, everybody has to have a spoon of black-eyed peas,” he explains.
His ambitious final-year project at Westside High School—an encyclopedia of spiritual practices rooted in West African heritage— spurred his exploration of these family traditions.
The project expanded Laveau’s understanding of Hoodoo and its amalgamation of West African spiritual practices passed on by African slaves in the Americas. Many vestiges of Hoodoo, he learned, have remained in the daily lives of many African-Americans without their tacit acknowledgment of the traditions’ root origins.
The superstitions he took lightly as a child tell more than a story of his own upbringing—they are in many ways echoes of American imperialism. “Whenever we talk about [African traditional spiritual systems], we always have to remember that their root is African, but they’re about Africa in the New World,” Laveau explains.
He describes how enslaved people had to develop new, subtle ways to continue their spiritual protection practices. “When we get down to the root of it, a lot of it was protection from a slave master, protection while fleeing north, protection from families being separated and sold,” he says.
One powerful example of the dynamic nature of African traditional spiritual systems is the prominent superstition warning against “splitting poles” when walking with loved ones. The idea is that the streetlight or telephone pole could split the positive connection between two friends or family members who fail to walk on the same side of it together.
Laveau recalls being a child scolded for splitting poles while playing in the grocery store, but later learned that this tradition comes from a very meaningful place: “You’re not wanting to lose somebody in your life— especially keeping that mentality of slavery, families would be cut up and divided every day, for no reason. Just for the matter of gain and profit. So if I didn’t want to lose my family member, of course, I wouldn’t cross a tree. We would have to walk on the same side of the tree together.”
Laveau and his family have always known he was spiritually gifted. He describes leading his first demonic exorcism at just 14 years old. With support from family and guidance from his spiritual godmother, he was able to turn his gift into a profession to serve his community. He now offers a wide variety of Hoodoo, rootwork, divination, cleansing, and other spiritual services to clients from across the country.
His business has been steadily growing in the four years he has been practicing professionally. Though Laveau says there is no “typical” appointment, he attributes his popularity simply to “the realness” of his gift.
This includes a consistent format for appointments—only after a consultation about the nature of the concern and discussion of resolutions does Laveau begin his spiritual work. He says many clients come to him when it’s already too late. “When they have nowhere else to turn, when they have nobody else to get answers from, that’s when they usually turn to a rootworker or a spiritual worker.”
The best time to turn to him is the moment a concern or an inkling becomes prevalent, rather than after the fact. “A pinch of prevention is better than a pound of resolution,” he says.
He adds that people are becoming more open to traditional African spiritual practices, largely because of the influence of pop culture. Shows such as Charmed and American Horror Story inspired people to embrace magic and African traditional spiritual systems. Overall this new exploration is positive, but Laveau warns against equating his lifestyle with a character on television. “There’s a difference between me fasting for seven days, abstaining from sex for 21 days, me waiting until the moon is in the perfect sign for me to make a manifestation…there’s a difference between these things and the things you saw on TV.”
Laveau also sees the increase in New Age shops popping up around town as a positive development, but he is critical of the lack of diversity in the popular magical community. He says most shops don’t cater to the needs of spiritual practitioners of color and finds that they tend to encourage people to practice European Wicca instead of traditional Hoodoo, Santeria, and other non-European religions. Hispanic and Gypsy practitioners also tend to experience prejudice in some magical communities.
He sees Omaha as a special place for magical communities to thrive. “Omaha has the ability to be a Salem or a New Orleans of the Midwest.” This is due to our city’s uncommon position on three major ley-lines, or magnetic lines that run across the Earth and connect to the South and North poles. Laveau reports that Omaha’s magical energy is also affected by the deep history of trauma and violence against Native Americans and African-Americans in the area, of which spiritual practitioners should be mindful.
“I don’t do it to be politically correct and for people to see me and say, ‘Wow, he’s really embracing his heritage,’” Laveau says. “I just do it because I embrace my heritage, and it’s a major part of who I am.”
Ultimately, he feels called to develop opportunities for spiritual practitioners from all backgrounds. “The end goal for my practice is to have a store, so people can come in, sit down, and be heard authentically and openly.”
Visit @shaunlaveaupsychic on Facebook for more information.
This article appears in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.